Sonthi: Civilian govt in 2 weeks
Newin, Yongyuth told to surrender Pridiyathorn, Administrative Court chief Ackaratorn tipped as candidates for PM
Jaruvan stays; more power to probe graft
General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who was yesterday appointed by royal command as head of the Administrative Reform Council (ARC), has promised to set up a civilian government within two weeks.
Speaking at the Army Command a day after he led a successful coup to overthrow Thaksin Shinawatra, Sonthi said he expected a new election to be held by October 2007.
Meanwhile, Sonthi yesterday ordered ousted PM's Office minister Newin Chidchob and Natural Resources and Environment minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat to surrender by noon today. Newin and Yongyuth are believed to be hiding abroad.
In a surprise move after having suspended official agencies, the ARC retained Auditor General Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka and gave her more power to investigate government corruption. This was seen as the first step to possible confiscation of assets belonging to the Thaksin administration.
Sondhi also gave the five recently elected election commissioners permission to continue their work. Earlier, ARC had scrapped all independent agencies including the Constitution Court.
The Army chief had a busy day yesterday laying down the groundwork for the transitional government. He met with senior bureaucrats and officials, ambassadors and other representatives of foreign countries, and later on the media to try to create understanding and convey the reasons for and the message of the Administrative Reform Council.
The most urgent task for ARC was to appoint a committee to draft an interim constitution. This would make it possible to create a civilian government, after which Sonthi and his council said they planned to take a backseat.
At the moment, Sonthi is serving as interim prime minister because there is no government and no Parliament.
Sonthi has kept possible candidates to succeed him as prime minister to himself, hinting only that the new premier must embrace neutrality and love democracy with the King as head of state.
Ackaratorn Chularat, the head of the Supreme Administrative Court, and MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, the Bank of Thailand governor, have been widely tipped as potential candidates for the premiership in the interim regime.
Doubts about the legitimacy of the coup have eased after His Majesty the King endorsed Sonthi yesterday evening as head of the Administrative Reform of Democracy Council, with the King as head of state.
Sonthi told about 80 Bangkok-based diplomats that the military stood with the people and that the coup was in line with their wishes.
Accompanied by other leaders of the armed forces who took part in the coup on Tuesday night, Sonthi appeared in front of about 80 envoys and 200 media professionals. The Army chief and coup leader spoke through an interpreter and appeared to be in a good mood.
He told reporters the council had decided to launch the coup two days ago, although he noted that people involved had been quietly discussing the idea for some time.
The assembled diplomats did not appear perturbed by the situation. Most said they would adopt a wait-and-see attitude, according to a foreign envoy who attended the meeting.
Sonthi, who earlier complained about corruption in the Thaksin administration, was ambiguous in regard to what the Administrative Reform Council would do about Thaksin's wealth. Earlier, he had accused the ousted premier of being a threat to the monarchy, and someone who had deeply divided the nation and grossly interfered in the country's independent bodies.
Sonthi said Thaksin and members of his Cabinet could return to Thailand as free men because they had not been charged with any crimes.
Any moves on Thaksin's wealth would be subject to due process of law, he said. ARC had yet to set up a body to investigate Thaksin's assets, he said.
Asked by a diplomat from Finland, which currently chairs the European Union, what effect the move would have on Thailand's democracy and what message it would send to Western tourists, Sonthi said Thailand was and would remain a democracy and that tourists could continue to visit the country.
An Australian diplomat asked whether or not the recent relaunch of the Election Commission (EC) had been a move towards restoring democracy in Thailand. Sonthi replied that the EC and the workings of the executive branch were different matters.
Sonthi insisted Thailand's foreign policy remained intact and that the Administrative Reform Council would continue to support caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's candidacy to be the next UN secretary-general, to replace the outgoing Kofi Annan.
Sonthi said there would be no changes in strategies to restore peace to the restive deep South, adding the Fourth Army Region Commander would remain in charge.
He did not believe the coup would affect the economy, saying ARC supported the government's bilateral economic agreements.
Outside the Army headquarters, several hundred people gathered to show their support for the military. Almost all of them were dressed in yellow T-shirts, demonstrating their loyalty to His Majesty the King. Some held signs reading "Thank you to the King's soldiers". Every now and then, they shouted "Thaksin, get out".
Retiree Somsak Tangjitwisut, 71, said he came to the Army headquarters with six family members to show support for Sonthi.
"I can't remember how many times I have seen coups in my life. But I'm so happy with this coup - so much that I almost cried," he said in a shaking voice.
He accused Thaksin of being corrupt and said he hoped the former prime minister would never return to Thailand.